Even the torrential rains could not dampen the spirit of thousands of women - overwhelming majority of them tribals - who enthusiastically participated in the huge public meeting organized by the AIDWA Palghar-Thane district committee on August 27, 2014. Young and old, the women came in trucks, tempos, jeeps, buses and rickshaws. Hundreds of them came walking from the neighbouring villages, with children in hand. Attired in attractive and colourful sarees, more than 5,000 women from all directions poured
into the Somaiya Trust Hospital Hall at Dhundalwadi village in Dahanu tehsil of the newly formed Palghar district, which was carved out of the old Thane district last month. The new Palghar district has a predominant Adivasi population. Women came from the ravines, mountains and forests of Jawhar, Vikramgad, Mokhada, Dahanu, Talasari, Palghar, Wada and Shahapur tehsils of Palghar and Thane districts. Due to heavy rains, the public meeting could not be held on the huge terrace of the hospital as had
been planned. So the two big halls and all the corridors on the ground floor of the building were literally overflowing with women. The significance of this women’s rally was that it was taking place on the eve of the state assembly elections that are due next month in October. Among the 20-odd assembly seats that the CPI(M) will fight in these elections as part of the Left Democratic Front, five seats are from the Palghar and Thane districts. The main speaker in this public meeting was AIDWA Vice President Sudha Sundarraman.
She congratulated the women for participating in such large numbers in spite of the heavy downpour, showing the tremendous commitment that of all of them have towards the organization and movement. Sudha lambasted the BJP central government for deceiving the people with false promises of ‘achhe din’ and increasing hardships for the poor and downtrodden. Speaking of the larger struggle going on in the country, she referred to the growing malnutrition-related deaths of tribal children, the non-implementation of the Food
Security Act, the sky-rocketing price rise of essential commodities, the serious question of unemployment, the need to stringently implement and expand the scope of the NREGA, and the importance of adopting the Women’s Reservation Bill. Sudha also spoke about the need to mobilize people against increasing violence against women and girl children. Killings in the name of ‘honour’ are rising. The slogan of ‘love jehad’ is being raised by the Hindutva communal forces against the minority community to polarize the people. This will result in further attacks on women. She stressed the need to fight against feudal and patriarchal attitudes towards women and against all forms of communalism, casteism and social oppression. For all this, she said, our struggles must vastly increase in scope and intensity. Finally, she called upon the women to take active part in the coming election battle for the State Assembly, to defeat the BJP-SS combine as well as the
INC-NCP alliance, and to ensure the resounding victory of the CPI(M) in these elections.
The public meeting was also addressed by AIDWA state secretary Sonya Gill. She elaborated on the changes being made in the laws regarding land rights by the Modi government. Land will be usurped by vested interests under the pretext of development. Hotels and resorts are being constructed on this land in Maharashtra, displacing thousands of tribals and further increasing their impoverishment. Many poor families have been excluded as beneficiaries when implementing the Food Security Act. She praised the women for the consistent and militant struggles they have been waging on these issues in Palghar-Thane district. Sonya criticized the BJP and NCP for instigating the Dhangar community to demand its inclusion in the scheduled tribes and thus dividing the working people for their own selfish electoral interests. Dhangar is a nomadic tribe in Maharashtra and has a 3.5 per cent reservation in this category, as against all Adivasi tribes who have a reservation of only 7 per cent in education and jobs. She called upon the women to work hard in the coming election campaign to decisively defeat the BJP-SS, INC-NCP and to ensure the victory of the Left.
AIDWA state president Mariam Dhawale spoke about the challenges before the women’s movement in the tribal areas of Palghar-Thane districts. AIDWA has a membership of over 22,389 and contacts in nearly 150 villages in 7 tehsils of Palghar-Thane districts. She said that along with the struggles on the issues mentioned above, AIDWA is conducting an awareness campaign on the issue of violence against women and girl children. Mariam said that this campaign which started on July 23, the second death anniversary of Captain Laxmi Sehgal, is receiving tremendous response from all sections of society. The campaign which includes brief lectures explaining the issue of violence on women, discussions on the issue with women and students, taking of oath to prevent atrocities on women and a signature campaign demanding a comprehensive law against honour killings, is being organized jointly with the SFI in secondary schools, colleges, ashram schools and in villages and will culminate on September 28, Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary.
More than 3,500 students and 7,000 women have participated in this campaign so far. Thousands of women in this public meeting took the oath to combat violence against women. The ensuing state assembly elections, said Mariam, will be a crucial battle for protecting the rights of the tribals, especially women. Right to land, water, forests, food grains, employment are very important for tribal women. ‘Development’ for the ‘haves’ and displacement and migration for the ‘have-nots’ are the policies of the Congress-NCP state government and BJP central government that have to be rejected by women. The danger of the communal forces like RSS-BJP-SS has also to be combated. The AIDWA will hold hundreds of meetings in hamlets and villages to unite the women to elect the CPI(M) candidates in Dahanu, Vikramgad, Palghar, Boisar and Shahapur constituencies in the Palghar and Thane districts. The rally was greeted by CPI(M) Thane district secretary Rajaram Ozare MLA, AIKS state joint secretary Barkya Mangat and DYFI district secretary Ramdas Sutar. AIDWA state secretariat members from Palghar-Thane district Raseela Dhodi and Sangeeta Ozare
addressed the public meeting which was presided over by AIDWA district president Lahani Dauda. The young 27-year old AIDWA state committee member Heena Vanga, who will be the CPI(M) candidate from the Boisar (ST) assembly seat, also addressed the meeting.
A concerted fortnight-long campaign of village-level meetings and the distribution of 5,000 leaflets had been undertaken by AIDWA activists in Palghar-Thane districts to ensure the success of this public meeting. Activists of the other mass organizations in Thane district, like the AIKS and DYFI, also helped the AIDWA in its efforts. The rally greatly enthused all to work for the challenging political battle to come next month.